Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1911, was born Sir Terence Rattigan.
Rattigan was one of the most significant of the Twentieth Century playwrights, acknowledged for his skilful creation of the play’s structure and his plausible characters.
Rattigan was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford. His first work, French Without Tears, was a flimsy comedy, which lampooned the public school system. A more serious work, After The Dance, 1939, satirised a society unprepared for war and a regime powerless to prevent it. Ironically, this play was scuppered by the outbreak of the Second World War, which prevented its performance. After the war, Rattigan produced several plays, the best known of which were The Winslow Boy, a drama based on a real life incident, and Separate Tables, an expose of failing middle-class attitudes and the damage that results from outdated social conventions.
Separate Tables was probably Rattigan’s finest work and demonstrates his art of characterisation. The action is set in a seaside boarding house in which the residents are obliged to take meals at individual tables, symbolising the isolation of the individuals. One of the characters, Major Pollock, is the subject of a scandal after a lewd incident in a cinema. This develops a series of relationships between the other characters. The strident but respectable Mrs Railton-Bell wants Pollock expelled and the other characters either by siding with or against her form relationships one with another, thereby breaking down the social barriers epitomised by the separate tables.
In the original stage drama, the lewd incident, which acted as a catalyst for the blossoming of human relationships, involved another man. In the screen adaptation, the producers, aware of public sensibilities, changed the script to make it a woman, the notion of homosexuality being considered too much for 1940’s taste. Ironically, a play about the petty attitudes of society was perversely altered by the same mind-set, which was the subject of the play itself, and so another layer of satire was added to the text.
Rattigan’s style went out of fashion after the production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which replaced symbolism with realism. Rattigan was knighted in 1971. He died in Bermuda in 1977. His ashes are buried in the family grave at London. [Kensal Green Cemetery, Harrow Road, London W10 4RA]
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